Across Europe, regulations regarding temporary worker protections and employer responsibilities vary. Federgon, the Belgium federation of HR service providers and temporary employment agencies, recently worked with the nation’s trade unions to create a draft sector agreement (revised every two years) for temporary workers, treading the delicate line between client costs and improving working conditions.

The final agreement was signed on 12 September.

SIA Assistant Editor Danny Romero spoke with Ann Cattelain, CEO of Federgon, about the agreement, which covers collective bargaining agreements for temporary workers, including pension contributions, Covid-19 premiums and other benefits.

[The transcript has been edited for length and to fit our format.]

Anne Cattelain, CEO, Federgon

Describe the impact this draft agreement could have on the temporary work market in Belgium going forward. Could it have any other influence on temporary worker legislation in other EU countries? Do you have any external influence?

The [agreement] is important, but not so important toward other sectors because from the side of Federgon, we very much want to keep [in line with] User Pay.

User Pay means that the temporary worker’s pay may not be less than that to which they would have been entitled if they had been employed by the user under the same conditions as a permanent employee.

[Here’s an] example. One of the new things in our agreement is that we will have healthcare insurance for the temp workers, but … only [those working] for a client who [provides] such insurance [to their own staff]. We don’t give advantages to all the temp workers; [the advantages we give are always linked] to the client, to the company where they are working.

This is the application of the User Pay system; we always look at the client, the company and where the work is. So, [the agreement] will have an [impact on the temporary market in Belgium], but [we are not making]  temporary work more expensive … because it’s a cost that the open-ended contracts of the client have already.

This is a very important principle for Federgon. We want to attract more temp workers and to make a better situation for them. But on the other hand, we always look at the costs. So, we have to look at the balance because when we give a lot of advantages to the temp workers, they become more expensive and companies would look less at temp agencies to cover their needs. So, we have to take care [to balance] … the costs and … improving the working situation of the temp workers.

I very much emphasize the User Pay system. It doesn’t exist in all the countries. … For instance, in the UK, in the Netherlands, temporary workers have their own separate salaries. We always look at the client sector and the client company. Will [our draft agreement] have an influence on the international market? Not really, but one important example that I wanted to give is that we have a new [collective labor agreement] about hosting temp workers from other countries.

Foreign temp security. I would like for there to be a state-of-the-art migration system for temp workers [from] other countries [where we could work] together with the trade unions, because we want to give a lot of respect to the people who come from other countries who work here as a temp worker. That’s why we worked a lot on the housing [in the CBA], because it’s not only giving them a job. … You have to help them with banking, with health insurance, with housing — this is something that still can be improved a lot in Belgium.

That’s why we’re also talking to the ministers in the Belgian and in the Flemish government to have more security for foreign temp workers about housing and where they will live, because they have to know in advance. They have to know what the job is, but it’s not only the job and the salary, it’s also the housing and where they will live. And that’s an important thing that we want to work on [through our new CLA] about that subject.

And then we have another one where we will work together closer with the inspection services, because in Belgium, to start a temp agency, you need a license. And we see that there is a lot of abuse and unfair competition from certain companies coming often from Eastern European countries and they offer a cheap labor force and we want to fight that because it is not only a problem for the workers, but there’s also an unfair competition towards the Belgian and foreign temp agencies who have such a license, who have paid the guarantee and who follow the Belgian working conditions when people are working in the country.

And that’s not always the case with some foreign companies. And therefore we have a position paper on the one hand, and we have also a CLA in which we will work together on that issue with the trade unions. So this is also a subject with some international consequences that I wanted to point out.

You had mentioned cost as far as impacts. Is there any other opposition or reluctance to have had this draft sector agreement implemented earlier?

No, not really. We try to have a balanced agreement each time every two years. And yes, we ask a mandate very often of our council. We try to have an agreement every two years because it helps to create good will with the trade unions and not to have too many strikes and so on.

But on the other hand, we look at the costs and this is very important. An example [of something we have worked on] that doesn’t have a cost for the sector is that, in Belgium, you have special systems of public transport that are for the moment only accessible for companies, but not for temp agencies. And that’s a system where the government pays a part of the public transport of the workers.

Now, we have a new agreement to ask the government together with the trade unions to open this up for temp companies’ use. This is something important, but not with a cost for the sector. Especially in these times, we look at the costs and we always try to figure out how much something that we put in the agreement will cost. It’s an important principle.